Camel-milk chocolate and other great Dubai souvenirs

Camel-milk chocolate and other great Dubai souvenirs

The shopping capital of the Middle East raises the keepsake stakes way above the Toblerone
Milking it for all it's worth ... desert pack animal meets tourist market in Dubai.

Shopping: it’s pretty much modern Dubai’s reason for being.

Fans of the city say you can buy whatever your heart desires there.

Almost literally: Dubai does, after all, have the world’s largest shopping center -- the Dubai Mall -- and it contains a lot of stuff.

The problem is knowing which stuff to haul back home as a keepsake or a gift for your nearest and dearest.

Or just for the people who bought you some stuff the last time they went away.  

Gold from the souk

Gold standard: Nice prices in the souk.Gold is a top contender when it comes to the weight-value souvenir ratio and, thankfully, Dubai has a lot of it.

Much of the precious metal is to be found in -- you guessed it -- the Dubai Gold Souk (off and around Sikkat Al Khail Road, Deira).

It’s the biggest gold market in the region and one of the largest in the world. The high quantity means prices are good. 

The quality is high, too. Government controls keep out fakes -- you can leave those to the hawkers outside the market flogging knockoff Rolex watches and Gucci handbags.

Diamonds and platinum are sometimes on sale here, too.

If you do see something you like, haggling is a must -- a nicely judged walkaway could score you 50% off the asking price.

More on CNN Travel: Insider guide: Best of Dubai

Dates from Bateel

Dates of distinction ... some of the best in Dubai are actually from Saudi Arabia. Not quite in the same souvenir league as a chunky gold necklace, but surprisingly just as varied when it comes to quality, is the date.

No, not the assignation, the rendezvous, the candle-lit tête-à-tête -- you can’t generally take those home in your luggage -- but the classic Middle Eastern dried fruit.

Aficionados of the treat point frequently to the venerable vendor Bateel (Dubai Mall; +971 4339 9818), whose big, fat Saudi Arabian dates, with their notoriously gooey, succulent centers, are arranged in perfect  pyramids behind polished-glass display cases like so many jewels.

The pretty packaging only enhances the appeal of this authentic reminder of an emirate visit.

Of course, if it’s an obligatory present for the guy who brought you a giant Toblerone home from Switzerland, any box of shriveled fruit from an anonymous stallholder will probably do -- as long as it’s got some exotic writing on it.

A kilo of plain -- unstuffed -- dates from Bateel starts at $35.

Camel-milk chocolate

Desert gold ... Al Nassma camel-milk chocolates available from Majlis Dubai.

Lying behind what can be called without criminal exaggeration a wave of regional interest in camel milk are its apparent health benefits, said to include powerful boosts to the immune system.

Thankfully, this ancient Bedouin beverage can also be made to taste as if it’s got nothing to do with a camel -- especially when combined with chocolate.

Newbies can sip on the stuff at Dubai’s first camel milk café, the Majlis Dubai (Dubai Mall; +971 562 871 522), while the shop's camel-milk chocolate bars start at around $12.

A growing number of other Dubai locations are now selling camel-milk chocolate as well.

More on CNN: 8 wild outdoor adventures in Dubai


Designer shoes

Louboutins ... could be mistaken for an offensive weapon in your carry-on luggage.

By the time you’ve finished walking around Dubai Mall's 96,000 square feet, you may well need a new pair of shoes.

And what better place to look than in the mall's Level Shoe District, which claims to be the world’s largest shoe store.

Fendi, Belstaff, Alejandro Ingelmo and -- inevitably -- Prada are among the 40 boutiques selling their exquisite clodhoppers here, but the action doesn’t stop at merely buying a pair.

The gods of footwear -- shoe designers -- descend for occasional instore appearances. There’s a customization bar if you fear meeting someone with exactly the same shoes and “multi-brand” areas dedicated to themes such as travel.

Prices vary from the merely expensive to the astronomical. 

Tailored clothes

Inside leg? Dubai hits the price/skill sweet spot when it comes to bespoke.

With arguably more reliability than, say, its Indian or Vietnamese competitors, Dubai hits that rare sweet spot where bespoke tailoring skill and affordability meet.

Satwa, near the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, is the premier tailoring neighborhood. Al Ettifaq (opposite Emirates Post and the mosque in Satwa; +971 4342 2900) one of the top tailors in the area.

Established for more than 15 years, this boutique's formal suits and dresses have featured in high-end fashion mags, despite their affordable prices.

The tricky-to-find Whistle and Flute (down an alleyway running through the red brick building next to the Iranian Hospital, off Plant Street, Satwa, +971 4342 9229) is another good find for men.

Montexa (off Satwa Road, near Emirates Bank; +971 4349 4037), a cosy cubbyhole of a place owned by the English dressmaker Anne Rashid, specializes in wedding wear and other big-occasion dresses as well as copies of the latest must-have frock.

Tailoring prices in Dubai vary widely, especially for womenswear, but you should be able to pick up a good quality tailored men’s suit for around $600.

More on CNN: The UAE's most outrageous hotel suites 

A Persian carpet

Go on, smile! Dubai's a great spot for bagging a Persian (ie Iranian) carpet.Beautiful and a good investment, a Persian carpet is one of the more expensive souvenirs you can bring back from Dubai. 

National Iranian Carpets (Souk Madinat Jumeirah; +971 4368 6002), founded in Iran in 1917, sells carpets from all over the former Persia and will ship worldwide from Dubai.

If one of the existing styles from there -- mainly traditional and abstract -- doesn’t appeal, you can have one woven to order.

Persian Carpet House and Antiques (Emirates Towers Blvd; +971 4330 3277) is another long-established dealer that also sells exotic lamps and other knickknacks that will look good with your rug.

There’s little point in mentioning indicative prices when it comes to Persian carpets because it all comes down to bargaining -- aim (eventually) for 50% off the original price.

A traditional dagger

They’re a rare sight nowadays but you still sometimes see older Emirati men in the UAE wearing the traditional curved dagger -- the khanjar -- over their national dress.

This symbol of Arabian culture can be worn or framed to make a striking wall hanging.

You’ll find plenty to choose from at the Dubai Gold Souk.

Note: Obviously not an item for your hand luggage. 

A good quality khanjar should be heavy; prices for a decent one start at around $50.

Spices from the spice souk

Saffron, frankincense, bezar ... Dubai's a biblical-sounding bazaar.Spices from Dubai aren't good hand-luggage candidates either -- these babies can smell.

Few things, however, summon up the Middle East’s exoticism as well as these vibrantly colored substances.

And, yes, Dubai does retain some exoticism, especially at the Spice Souk (Sikkat Al Khail Road, Deira) where piles of bulging spice sacks crowd the narrow alleyways just as the odors do your nostrils.

Frankincense, saffron, bezar (a mix of Arabian spices), rosewater and orange blossom water (used in salads, pastries or desserts in Arabic cooking) are just some of the biblical-sounding substances you can take home with you.

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